Back in November of 2019, I posted about the much-anticipated opening of Summer Experiment in Ho Chi Minh City, a new garden craft cocktail bar by Jay Moir and his team who gave us the hit, Layla Eatery & Bar.
At the time, I reported that central to ‘Summer’s’ concept is a respect for ingredients and their provenance – garden-to-glass if you will – that has never been seen in this city, at least in a bar anyway.
It’s a mindset gaining greater acceptance within the bartending community in Vietnam and has emerged from a growing understanding from both sides of the bar that aiming for zero waste is the right way to go.
One way Jay and his crew are striving to distance themselves from the negative throw-away culture tag that has at times stigmatised their industry, is by creating more sustainable cocktails.
Each ingredient for the 27 different cocktails on the menu isn’t merely chosen because the menu says it should be in the mix, rather it’s chosen for how it can elevate its flavour and appearance but at the same time impact less on the environment.
Off-cuts from the kitchen are used, they have their own herbs growing on the walls and there’s even a small longan tree that’s been positioned onto the balcony so its fruit can be used in drinks when they’re in season.
Since Summer Experiment’s opening, the summer vibes (a catchphrase Jay manages to slip into most conversations) here are fuelled by playful drinks, such as the Banana’s Be Smoking (VND180,000) cocktail comprising whisky-infused dried banana leaf, Flor de Cana Spresso, banana liqueur, home-made coconut condensed cream, smokey dried banana peel and finished with a mini-banana coconut peanut ice-cream.
And then there’s the Peanut Butter Jelly Time (VND160,000) which is a cheeky throwback to the flavours of our childhood except that it has a healthy shot of Canadian Club whisky infused with Da Lat peanut butter, raspberry jam, Angostura bitters, cherry bitters and even some mini toast for some crunchy texture between sips.
Head bartender Thep Dinh’s award-winning creation, the decidedly ‘summery’ Melon of Steel (VND190,000) cocktail comprising Ketel One vodka, watermelon, pickle juice, lime juice, simple syrup, watermelon soda, dehydrated watermelon mist, Vietnamese mint, pickled watermelon rind and watermelon seeds reflects, for want of a better word, the vibe here.
While it’s the drinks and endless summer vibes that draw people to Summer Experiment, they still come looking for something to eat.
It has some great tasting sharing options that lean more towards Western-style comfort food than anything else, including their cured meat board (VND295,000) with a selection of four cured meats that come with an assortment of condiments and house-made bread.
Their pop-corn chicken (VND160,000) – spiced crunchy chicken bites served with house-made tomato sauce – is great if you need something to tide you over until dinner or as a snack between friends. The inherent danger with this is that it may just cause fights between those friends over who gets the last piece.
Meanwhile, the stuffed zucchini blossoms (VND150,000) are an abject winner. They are lightly battered zucchini flowers stuffed with a house-made fish paste. Again, expect fingers to jostle over who gets the last one.
But for me, nothing on Summer Experiment’s menu opens my eyes wider than their cheesy toasties (VND160,000) – calling it a toasty is a gross understatement.
Looking more like a panini, it’s a mouthwatering slab of four-cheeses finished with a dash of truffle oil and grilled until the cheeses ooze from between the crunchy brown slices of bread like slow-moving molten rock does through a fissure in the Earth’s crust.
The entrance is a mini-journey of discovery as you meander your way up through a residential apartment block
I’m loving the commitment to craft cocktails
You don’t have to be a cocktail geek to enjoy this place, there’s wine, beer and juices as well
Try the Heaven Tears, watermelon and mint-flavoured molecular vodka spheres served up on wooden spoons
If you love gin, this is the place to go
Summer Experiment is at 77-79 Ly Tu Trong St., District 1, HCMC
Words by Matthew Cowan. Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon
Photos by Mike Palumbo. Follow Mike on Instagram at @mikepalumbo_